SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
(from Common Sense, Thomas Paine)
In Plato's Republic, democracy has not only the function of protecting everyone against everyone else's attacks. It also expresses an idea of human nature. It expresses the idea that human nature cannot be taught, whether because there is no single nature or because we don't have the ability to teach. In a democracy, people are free from being held to any one standard. No one is obligated to be better in any one way, except to be better democrats, more respectful of the freedom of others.
This is inconsistent with our social life, in which we assume both an ability to teach and a better and worse to be taught. It is better to cooperate, and it is possible to learn how to cooperate. To the extent democracy expresses a way of life, is thought of as more than a tool, it is expressing something false.
This false statement is of advantage to individuals and groups who would like to influence the government. When there is no real good or bad, where there is no truth about life everyone can share, one thing that can be shared and equally understood is money. Money becomes the currency of life. And it becomes normal, even ideal, that money be allowed to influence government. Political parties, interest groups, lobbies compete with each other equally, each allowed the bring to bear the influence of money. The government changes to that of the rich rather than of a safe and free people, but the change occurs for the most part without comment. Good and bad are expressed only in the language of society, and society has been absorbed by government.
The difference between government and society is that between means and ends. Government is for society, not vice versa.